A Short Ramble on Seamus Heaney.

Last week, I decided to give myself a small night out. After work, I wandered down to the East Village to make the unhealthy life choice of Pommes Frites for dinner (dill lemon mayo, yes please). To walk off a bit of the regret, I made my way up to The Strand, fully intending to buy one cheap book and then maybe have a cup of tea nearby. Such a goal was lofty but ill-founded. Rarely do I escape that bookstore with a single volume. Usually I enter with a battle plan: check out the new releases, wander down the middle of the store to browse their selected volumes, then hook left to fiction to see what’s on offer. Sometimes authors’ names come to mind–do they have any Irvine Welsh I haven’t read yet?–but more often than not I will become drunk on cover art and stupidly low prices. I had two books already when I thought I might look for Joe Hill. The store was crowded, as usual, so I decided to work my way around the pack by looping around poetry. Once there though, I had to have a peek. Look for my favorites.

The volume of Poems, 1965-1975 I encountered was nowhere near pristine. The paperback’s cover had been worn with use and contact, the off-white surrendering to color through time alone. For some reason I love knowing that I am holding a book older than I am, no matter how far back the words inside were written. Most of the poems I had read before, and I am the proud owner of a copy of Death of a Naturalist, even if mine is a tragically recent edition. Of course, the sticker on the book said $5.95, so onto my stack it went. Straight to the train I went, and though I tried to start reading a novel on the way home, but I switched to Heaney instead. I never did get that tea.

West Virginia has strong Celtic heritage on the whole, so Irish art often feels like home to me. Seamus Heaney was a writer of simplistic beauty, who took the tiniest details and made entire scenes from the drama of merely existing. His words were like the scent of air just before a storm, fresh and ripe with promise. I’d never call myself a poet, but I’ll take the term writer. For me, the poem that cuts the deepest is “Digging.” My grandfather grew his own garden, and somehow memories of him are inextricably linked to these words for me. Maybe that’s why the poet’s death has remained on my mind today. Whatever the reason, please introduce yourself to his lovely words, beginning with “Digging” now:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.


Things That Make Me Feel Old: Tamagotchi.

It’s now less than a month until my birthday that you will all forget, skip, or be too far away to do anything about, which means that I am acutely aware of anything that will make me feel “old.” This list includes celebrities who died at the age of 27, young people on the internet having no clue who NSync were/are, Weezer’s upcoming rock cruise, and now this: Tamagotchi.

In case you weren’t alive or sober in 1997 or so, the Tamagotchi was a small, handheld toy supposedly in the shape of an egg. Your little alien baby hatched from an egg on the screen and bounced around in black and not-really-white. There were three buttons, and I really have no idea what the third button is for. I don’t think I ever did. You fed it bread or candy, played games with it, bathed it, and basically tried to keep it alive for 30 days so it could evolve into some new, special squiggly alien rather than the alien you created last month. And then you’d start over, usually after you killed it. It was brilliant, though not as brilliant as GigaPets because if you bought a cat, you’d get a cat. What can I say, I like spoilers.

Anyway, it recently came to my attention that there is a Tamagotchi app. For free. This was the gadget that took up perhaps a year of my life (when I wasn’t hating Hanson or Titanic), the very thing I scraped and saved for in order to accumulate the $20 or so I needed to have a fake pet in my life. That was a lot of money back then, kids. Plus this app is in full color. I had to have it to see what’s changed in nearly 20 years. Would my alien be green?

Would it fuck.

I downloaded the app, forgot how to use the buttons on the egg (before realizing you can just switch to a screen view), fell asleep, and promptly forgot about my little bundle of joy. By the time I remembered to check on it the next day, my newborn was dead, surrounded by its own feces. Could there possibly be a worse way to teach children about responsibility? “Take care of this thing, or it will die, and its bowels will release. That is what happens when you die. Dying is shit.”

To avoid doing anything else important, I started over. I set alerts for myself this time. I’d feed him. I’d bathe him. I’d make sure he got past the black blob stage. We’d play Rock Paper Scissors, and he’d get so angry with me when I won. How adorable. Today I got my first alert: “Your Tamagotchi needs you!”

The image speaks for itself.

So far this thing is three days old, and I doubt it’ll last much longer. As something resembling an adult, I will just stick with cats. You can leave them alone all day, and it’s easier to keep them from pooing over everything you love. I guess this is growing up.

To the woman who tried to publicly shame me.

To the woman who tried to publicly shame me,

Good morning. We didn’t get to say good morning to one another on the elevator this morning. I know it’s frustrating that it’s only Thursday, that it’s gloomy out, that the building always has so much air conditioning that you have to wonder if Hell may have frozen over.

I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself. I was already in the elevator when you stepped on, and my floor’s subtenant was also already in the lift. We have common interests such as Shark Week, so we were already deep into a conversation about the dead shark that was found on an N train recently. (Did you hear about that? Someone gave it a Red Bull, a Metrocard, and a cigarette! Hipsters!) I can only assume you were leaning in to eavesdrop on this conversation, looking for your moment to strike, when you heard it. Your entry point.

My knuckle cracked.

Now, I hadn’t twisted my fingers together to let loose a cracking avalanche inflicting such auricular torment that is usually only reserved for Mariah Carey during her most divalicious moments. I think I had my hand on the railing of the elevator, and the lift wiggled. Body parts move. Sometimes they make noises. Rest assured that I was not trying to get your attention when my knuckle committed sonic mutiny. I’m a good girl. My family didn’t raise me like that.

“Stop THAT,” you snapped, barely turning to look at me.

“Stop what?” I asked, since I could not tell if you had a shark phobia and wished for us to end our conversation. Maybe you didn’t believe in talking on elevators. I didn’t know.

THAT.” If words could gesture, yours would have been stabbing its serifs at my digits. “THAT will give you arthritis.”

Do you have a traumatic history with the words “cracking your knuckles?” Are you allergic? If you say it three times, will it happen again? Did you mistake me for Beetlejuice? If so, I understand your confusion since I am wearing a striped shirt, but my top is grey and black horizontal stripes, whereas he favored black and white vertical stripes. If only you’d introduced yourself, we could have cleared that up easily!

I’m sorry I laughed at your intensity. Arthritis is hardly infrequent in my family, and I myself have been treated for “arthritis-like” pain in the past. I was in 4th grade and could hardly stand from the pain. Though all the symptoms I described sounded like arthritis, I did not have the joint damage or physical signs that would lead to a diagnosis. I was afraid my cracking bones had led to me being bed-bound for days. The doctor told me this simply wasn’t true. Based on my firsthand knowledge and continued research, I asserted, “That’s not true.”

“It is,” you insisted. “I’ve read research.”

“So have I,” I said. You were older than me, perhaps in your forties or fifties, and this is a respectable skyscraper. I felt my confidence begin to drain because it was entirely possible you worked in or with medicine. Maybe you knew more recent research than I did.

“You’ll see,” you pressed smugly. “Come see me in twenty years!” You paused dramatically, then added, “YOU WILL REMEMBER THIS CONVERSATION!”

Mostly I remember the awkward silence that followed since we were still several stops from your floor. Skyscrapers, what a bitch.

I’ll admit that you made me feel bad, stranger. You belittled me in front of a colleague. You treated me like a child and assumed I knew nothing. You spoke with such indignation and anger that you created doubt within me. I doubted myself and let your negativity in, and even when my companion said, “That was really rude” and “I bet her face will still look the same in twenty years, eesh,” I only took minimal relief.

But I want to thank you. Because of you, I’ve been doing some research. Maybe I don’t have access to unreleased medical studies yet, but the BBC, MSN, WebMD, Discovery Health, Medical News Today, and The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center all agree with me that your arthritis claims are bogus. Doctor Donald Unger cracked the knuckles in one hand for over sixty years without doing so to the other, and he developed no problems in either hand. I could be wrong, even with all of this evidence (or lack thereof) to back me up. I’m open to it. If you would like to correct me should we meet again, please do, but perhaps you could exercise a bit more kindness. Maybe you’d be happier if you watched Sharknado. It worked for us.

Also, I’m going to crack my knuckles in front of you deliberately next time. Because you’re a bitch.